Stay Ready: A Guide to Professional Readiness

“When you stay ready, you won’t have to get ready”. But how do you get to that point in the first place? I experienced from first-hand pageant experience that it’s much easier when you have all your ducks in a row beforehand. Although this quote, spoken to me so eloquently by my babe, was birthed from a conversation of pageants, I believe it is applicable to professional women all around. Looking to feel and actually be put together despite the circumstances? Dive into my helpful tips.

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budget worksheet and calculator

Budget 101: My Golden Rules

Happy payday (someone’s getting paid today)! Whether you’re paid bi-weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. there is a routine that you should adopt in order to keep your finances organized. Each week of payday, I follow a routine that keeps me up to date with my bills and on track with my budget. Hopefully, my routine will motivate you to make some adjustments to your financial routine for the better.

Create and Revise Budget

make-that-budget

I always take the time to write out my budget before payday. If you are not salaried, a great way to track your hourly pay is through Paycheck City. I love using their tool because the expected taxed income is always accurate. With that, I list all of my bills and budget areas that I plan to cover that check. Most importantly, I compare my budget categories to plans I have coming up in that pay period. This way, I am prepared to cover any expenses associated with them well in advance. After the initial budget draft, I am always revising it until payday.

Check Bank Account 

The morning of each payday, I check my account. I know this seems very thirsty, but there’s a method to my madness. I’ve had a few occasions where payroll was not setup properly for my direct deposit. Consequently, my paycheck was not deposited into my account. Also, with paydays being on Friday, I could not expect any money into my account until Monday morning. You can believe I paid a visit to my job for an asap manual check, whether I was off or not.

So, the first step is to verify that the money is there! I also check my paycheck stub to make sure the numbers match. Especially in my job where I earned commissions, I wanted to see where extra funds came from. Once these things are verified, I take a final glance at my budget and adjust accordingly. One great financial tip that I try to stick to is making sure all my funds are accounted for. Allocating all of your funds discourages any deviation from the budget in fear of overdraft.

Allocating all of your funds discourages any deviation from the planned budget. #chicadvice #bchicu Click To Tweet

Manually Post Payments

After verifying my funds and solidifying my budget, it’s time to pay off these bills! Despite the conveniences, I opt out of automatic payments for a few reasons.

  1. There are fluctuations in my monthly bills.
  2. Varying pay dates each month are too inconsistent to safely automate.
  3. I want to closely track money in and out of my account.

Manually posting bills gives me complete control over the bill pay process. I still receive paperless bills and complete the same steps online. However, I avoid all automation. The only automatic bills I have are small subscriptions and I keep them on my credit card. I keep these separate because the bill amount is consistent each month and I know what to expect.

Set Aside Savings

save-that-money

Savings is such a crucial part of financial health, not to mention all the things it provides for long-term planning and security. I try to save around 10% of my income per check, but the key is saving something. There are times I’ll cut back but still put money away. I made a point to make this its own step because I am learning the true benefits of saving. Being able to take trips, buy a car, and move between states within a few short months were all possible due to my saving habits (and good timing). I place my savings into a separate account and make sure to track this before allocating any spending money to myself.

Set Aside Spending

Lastly, I set aside my spending money. As I said earlier, all money is accounted for in the budget. So at this point, I should balance out to $0 in my account (not including the carry over personal money that I did not spend from last month). I track my frivolous spending weekly to ensure I am within budget. Sometimes, I adjust my budget further to make sense of the money I have left (including that extra from the last paycheck). The goal is to stay within budget.

Track Payments

Since most of my bills are paid on Friday, none of the payments show up in my checking account until Monday or Tuesday of the next week. Again, in an attempt to prevent fraudulent activity and to track my own activity, I check my account once on Monday and Tuesday mornings for the automatic withdraws. These payments were made manually, but on the bank’s end, they are still considered automatic.

Another reason to double check deposits and withdraws are to double check your own errors. I have had instances in which I set the wrong payment date. This threw off my budget and more specifically, my spending money. Sometimes checking for that human error will save a headache in the future.

Check the Budget Again

With all necessities covered, I am able to look ahead. I tend to forget there is a whole two-week time span between pay periods and I be living this lavish life over the weekend after payday. Then I remember I have gas, food and events/activities the next week that I need to hold money onto for. So at the beginning of the next week, I will estimate how much spending money to allocate for the following week. By further itemizing my money, there is less likeliness that I will overspend in one week and fall into the vicious “living paycheck to paycheck” cycle.

Start Again

and-repeat-budget

Going into the second week, I begin to plan my next budget and we start all over! I have found these small details to be helpful and really keep me on track with my budget, keeping up with bills and maintaining a decent balance in my account at all times. Other things I do to stay organized are keeping folders in my email for all statements and payment confirmations, periodic debt tracker worksheets to get a snapshot of my bills, use the Qapital to boost my savings and use the Mint budget app to monitor my credit score.

Let me know if any of these tips help you out. I sure hope so!

tax refund planning

5 Smart Ways to Spend (Save) Your Tax Refund

Congratulations! You’ve finished your tax return and you’re now patiently waiting for the tax refund to hit your bank account or mailbox. What are you going to do with that money? Do you already have plans on impulse spending most of it? If so, please stop. Like, really. Read this post and consider a few more responsible options. I want to help you make the best decision for your long-term financial health.

To keep things simple, I’ve devised a list of just five alternatives to spending your tax refund. Those are saving (duh), diversification (the non-investment type), loan interest payments, continued education and investing.

tax refund title photo

Tax Refund Option #1: Savings

I know this isn’t the sexiest option but savings come in handy. Whether you’re at a “struggling college student” state or have a pretty cushioned job with steady cash flow coming in, savings can and will come in handy when you least and most expect it.

Side story: A few months ago I requested a weekend off from work and also got sick another day within the same week. Mind you, I was only part-time when this happened, so no PTO for me. My plans were thrown way off and the following check was soooo sad. I had to dip into my savings for monthly expenditures, but I was ABLE to dip into my savings because I had it. Therefore, I was prepared for this unexpected moment and didn’t miss a beat with my finances.

But also, there are tons of dreams that we all have that savings can help us reach. I grabbed this info from the Forbes Level Up e-newsletter and I found it very enlightening…

“Escaping debt and saving money are key, so commit to setting aside cash whenever possible: $35,329 for getting married, $45,000 for buying a home, $233,610 for raising a child, $35,000 for grad school or $30,000 for starting a business.”

That’s a lot of money right? A windfall from something like your tax refund will put you on the right path to reaching these hefty spending goals others.

Tax Refund Option #2: Diversification

This is my favorite option because you still get to have a little fun with your money spending wise. I’m definitely a proponent for spending. It stimulates the economy right? And we don’t want another recession right? As long as it’s not “on credit”, you’re good. However, there still needs to be an element of long-term financial health within your decision. Think of your rent or mortgage payment as an example. You’re not going to pay just half of it at the beginning of the month with the expectation of that being good for the whole month, right? You will make the full investment in return for the security that you’re housing is set for the entire month.

This is a very simple and juvenile example but that’s how essential you should look at your immediate and far-off financial future. If there are family trips, annual vacations, big ticket wishlist items all on your “money to-do list”, you have to make the investment TODAY to get things rolling.

With that being said, this option is more flexible for those who have many financial goals that need a head start. Consider the following:

  • 20% spending
  • 50% savings
  • 30% towards big ticket wishlist items

Tax Refund Option #3: (Student) Loan Interest Payment

Most of us, unfortunately, have to worry about good ole’ Sallie Mae and returning to her what helped us earn our degrees. One thing that most of us forget is the interest that accumulated over those years! This raises your loan debt significantly and draws out your repayments as well. If this is of big concern to you and you want to pay down your student loan debt ASAP, apply part or all of your tax refund to the loan interest. Even better, if you are already making post-graduation payments, you can make payments on the principal. By making additional payments to your principal loan, your overall money due and added interest will be lower as well. You’re welcome.

Tax Refund Option #4: Continued Education

I know that more school is the last thing you want to hear about, but hear me out! Obtaining an additional degree, certification or program/software proficiency can have positive effects on your career growth. Want to make yourself indispensable at work? Or maybe even earn a salary increase by December? Level up your skillset! This can be done through classes at your local community college, joining a concentration on Coursera, completing a full skills course on Lynda, or simply Youtubing a topic all day. This sometimes takes a fiscal commitment, especially if you want something more formal and reputable than Youtube. What better way to put your tax refund to good use by investing in your career?

Tax Refund Option #5: Invest

These are both topics that are not too popular with 20-somethings and even millennials as a whole, and it should be! I’m sure you know, but the earlier you start saving and investing, the larger the payout will come at retirement. I don’t know about you, but I plan on chilling come like 50! That’s only possible if I hardcore invest and save starting now! The key to growing your hard earned small paychecks is by turning around and investing it. This provides the largest return in today’s economy.

Investing can be such an abstract topic but there are groups out there dedicated to making it simple and worthwhile for anyone! I really like Acorns and Ellevest. Acorns allow you to invest small amounts from everyday spending and Ellevest helps women outline an investing portfolio based on savings goals. They both also have awesome blogs with financial advice.

Tax Refund Bonus Option: New Business Idea

I am also a big fan of entrepreneurialism and supporting it. If you have a cool idea that you’d like to pursue, using your tax refund as an initial investment may be that small push you need. It can be daunting to look at startup costs even for a small, online business. However, having the extra funds to take that step may pay off in the long run once you start making money from it!

Tax Refunds Are For Investing

A theme you can probably trace throughout the blog post is to invest into your future with your tax refund. It may seem more glamorous for 2.5 seconds to spend it all on things you’ve been drooling over, but the investment is well worth it. Who knows, maybe when next year’s tax refund comes in, you won’t be in dire need of spending it, but it’ll add to your long-term investment all the more!

So now that you have these skills I challenge you! Create your ideal budget for your tax refund and determine how it will contribute to your long-term financial health. If you’ve received it already and made your decisions, double back and see how successful you were. Are there other ways you can improve your long-term financial health? Tweet me your new goals once you’re done!

New York Offers Free 4-Year Tuition

This past week, the state of New York has managed to pass a new budget in favor of offering free tuition for in-state, full-time students. That sounds like sweet music to the ears for all of us knee-deep-in-debt college students. But what are the tradeoffs? If this is a great offer, how many other states are sure to follow?

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laptop budgeting

How To Do Taxes for College Students

It’s tax time and that’s not only applicable to full-time employees. As a college student, you deserve to claim all of your refunds and credits for your hard earned money. College finances are hard enough to tackle, so naturally, taxes are too right? Not so! With the tips on taxes from this post, you’ll be on your way to completing your college student taxes in no time!

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